This generation has been a renaissance for music games, and while most people have focused on fake plastic instruments for the consoles, DS has played host to more than a fair share of its own brilliant music games. DS was designed from the ground up with innovation in mind and it shows in its selection of music games. Each of the games we selected as the best of the best utilizes several of the system’s features to deliver unique experiences unlike their peers and, for the most part, almost impossible to replicate on any other system. Making this selection even more impressive is the fact that only one comes from a major, preexisting brand, meaning the bulk of these titles succeeded on their own innovative and quirky terms.
Less a game and more a collection of strange instruments, Electroplankton was a sign of things to come for DS in terms of aesthetic and gameplay innovations. Rather than work towards a specific goal, players used the touch interface to manipulate the various creatures and items in order to create new rhythms and melodies out of an endless array of possible arrangements; several modes also used the system’s mic to record any sound you could think of.
Altogether there are ten “instruments,” so the number of potential sounds to create is staggering. Unfortunately, Electroplankton can be hard to find nowadays and its rarity has driven up its used value beyond the original sales price; however, each instrument is available for purchase separately as DSiWare at 200 points a piece.
Elite Beat Agents
What started in Japan as Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, a wildly inventive and thoroughly Japanese touch based rhythm game eventually came to the rest of the world as Elite Beat Agents, an equally inventive title that did away with much of the esoteric Japanese culture and replaced it with good ole western music and style without sacrificing any of the zaniness.
The gameplay was simple; follow the touch screen prompts while staying in time with the music to make it through each song and earn maximum points. The fact that each song grew progressively harder and the multiple difficulty levels rewarded gamers for mastering the unique gameplay gave Elite Beat Agents a certain addictive quality, but the presentation is what really drives the game. Each song is played over a comic book like story in which the titular group of business suit clad dancers show up to help struggling folks with the power of music. The stories are funny, charming, occasionally touching, and hold up over multiple plays. Altogether, Elite Beat Agents is one of the most creative and outright fun games available on DS.
Guitar Hero: On Tour
This once massive franchise might have burned itself out far too quickly, as many rockers often do, but its foray onto DS was a surprising success. Rather than rely on straight-up touch controls, Activision developed the Guitar Grip, a four fretted peripheral that plugged into the DS’s GBA slot and allowed for the familiar and addictive gameplay from the consoles to be integrated quite seamlessly. The Grip might have been cramp-inducing for larger hands and the using the touch screen for strumming was sometimes inconsistent, but the overall experience was surprisingly faithful to what fans were used to and the mechanics improved with each iteration. Those better controls definitely helped the later games to feel a bit better, but the first featured the best set-list and was the true innovator among the bunch. Other titles made it onto this list for showing how DS could be used to create new and wildly inventive experiences while Guitar Hero: On Tour is here for how well it showed DS could deliver more traditional music gaming.
At first glance, Rhythm Heaven looks like a strange combination between the touch based gameplay of Elite Beat Agents and the random insanity of WarioWare, and while that is part of it, the complete package is much more. Like Elite Beat Agents, the point is to follow along to the music with the proper pokes and flicks on the touch screen, but Rhythm Heaven focuses more on one motion at a time. This might sound overly simple, but the increase in rhythmic ferocity from song to song ultimately makes the game surprisingly challenging; so it is easy to get into but quite hard to master.
However, the gameplay is only a part of Rhythm Heaven’s success; its audio and visual presentation is magnificent. Rhythm Heaven features original music rather than covers of pop classics; the end result is a selection of great, memorable tunes that does little to water down the eccentrically Japanese style for our western ears. The visuals offer an equally varied collection as the music, with songs being paired up with thematically appropriate, simple cartoons that range in style from crude figures that look like the product of an eight year-old’s crayon box to clean, angular, industrial designs. Once again, an amazingly unique title only possible on Nintendo DS.
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